A Florida man may lose his home because of a fight with his neighborhood’s homeowners association over an American flag.
Larry Murphree, 73, lives in the Tides Condominiums at Sweetwater in Jacksonville. He believes he should be able to display a small flag in a potted plant on his front porch, but the homeowners association contends that is a violation of neighborhood rules and has fined Murphree $100 for each day he refuses to remove it.
Because Murphree has refused to pay, he now finds himself locked in a standoff with the association.
“They just sent me a letter that says I owe them around $8,000, and they put a foreclosure lien on my house,” he told WTEV News.
This isn’t the first time Murphree and the association have been at odds; they objected to another flag he displayed two years ago. That case was settled out of court, but the neighborhood’s rules regarding flags and potted plants have been rewritten.
"Now they're saying they can say what can go into a flower pot, and the American flag is an unauthorized object,” Murphree said.
Legal analyst Mark Rubin told WOKV that he believed the association couldn’t keep Murphree from displaying the flag. He cited the Flag Act, passed by Congress in 2005, which says anyone can fly the American flag on his or her own property.
"The property owner's association is, for some reason, intent on restricting the property owner,” Rubin said. "To restrict someone that's flying a flag in his front yard seems to be picking on somebody.”
Murphree filed a suit in federal court against the neighborhood but the judge dismissed it.
“They left us no choice,” Murphree told WJXT. “We had a federal judge look at it, and he ruled that it should be in state court instead of federal court.”
The association’s attorney, Michelle Haines, told First Coast News that the judge’s ruling proves Murphree has no cause to sue. But she said the association can move forward with the foreclosure if Murphree does not pay the fines within 30 days.
Murphree is not sure what his next step will be.
“I want it to go away,” he said. "It's such a minor, little thing, and they keep coming after me. When I first moved here, I loved it. It was wonderful. But it got where I’m being nitpicked more and more.”